Introduction: The concept of empathy has been described in many ways by researchers. According to some, it is the basic cognitive function or ability of being aware of others’ thoughts and feelings. Empathy refers to being able to respond to emotions, sharing the feelings of individuals, and reflecting them as if in a mirror. It also helps to establish good relationships with people, to understand them, and share their feelings. The use of empathy in the classroom, especially in life skills courses help students to make connections between school and everyday life.
Methods: This study aimed to investigate how an empathy-based education programme implemented in the life skills teaching course affected the empathy skills of prospective classroom teachers in Turkey. For this purpose, using a mixed-methods research design, the participant prospective classroom teachers received empathy-based education programme 12 class hours. The data collection tools used in the study were the Empathy Quotient Scale, document analysis and open-ended questionnaire. The study was conducted with 64 prospective classroom teachers attending at Istanbul University, Turkey. The dependent t-test was employed to analyze the quantitative data and content analysis for qualitative data.
Results: As a result, it was seen that the qualitative data supported the quantitative data. According to the quantitative data, after receiving empathy-based education programme, the students developed the skills of empathy. According to the qualitative data, it was determined that prospective teachers understood the importance of empathy and put themselves in the place of others. In addition, the prospective teachers considered that empathy would have several positive contributions to their future primary school students. It is thought that the results obtained from this study will guide teaching practices involving empathy-based activities.
Discussion: According to the findings obtained from the quantitative data, the empathy-based education programme provided for the prospective teachers caused a significant increase in their empathy levels. Similarly, in a study who applied a critical thinking programme and empathic tendency scale to prospective teachers, reported a positive correlation between critical thinking and empathic tendency at a low-level significance. According to the findings obtained from the qualitative data, the topics chosen for the preparation of empathy-based activities were mostly from the life skills subjects of the first grade of primary school, followed by second and third grades. This may be because the prospective teachers considered it appropriate to perform empathy-based activities with children from the earliest age. Furthermore, a higher number of participants chose to prepare written empathy-based activities, followed by drawing and photography, which might be attributed to their belief that they could better express themselves through writing, rather than drawing or taking/showing pictures.
Limitations: The study group covered in the third year of the classroom teaching programme in the selected university only. Although the empathy-based education programme prepared by the researcher was implemented with the prospective teachers as part of the life skills teaching course in 10 class hours.
Conclusions: In conclusion, empathy is considered to be very important especially in the education of children of young age. As revealed by the review of literature, empathy skills also affect many positive elements. For this reason and considering that the available research in the literature is based either on quantitative or on qualitative data, more mixed-design studies are needed to investigate the effects of similar empathy-based education programmes integrated into life skills and social studies courses. In addition, it is as important to conduct empathy-based activities in other courses of the primary and middle school as in life skills and social studies courses. It is also suggested that empathy-based education should also be provided for teacher candidates enrolled in science teaching programmes, as well as those in social studies.